TAMPA — Watching Sundui Chimidkorloo, dressed in a yellow traditional Mongolian costume, sit and pluck out the refrain of America, the Beautiful on a horse head violin perfectly encapsulated the experience of attending Saturday's Asia Fest 2014.
People looked on in silence as they listened to the familiar tune spiral out of the two-stringed, ancient instrument that is played like a cello.
"It's beautiful," said Lona Woods, 57, of The Villages, who came to Tampa to support her husband's dragon boat team competing at the Tampa Bay International Dragon Boat Races.
"I think it's wonderful to be able to see all the different cultures and ethnicities out here," Woods said. "I was here with The Leathernecks from The Villages last year, but I never came back this far in the park."
Celebrating 31 years of Asia Fests, the Asian-American Coalition of Florida brought together the Tampa Bay area's 17 Asian ethnic groups to put on a three-hour program in Cotanchobee Park, in the shadow of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Performances from seven countries, interspersed with presentations from the eight women vying to be Miss Asia Fest 2014, drew a steady crowd of onlookers.
Many in the audience were of non-Asian descent, a fact Dr. Kimi Springsteen, Asian-American affairs liaison for Hillsborough County, counts as a win.
"That's exactly what we want out here," she said. "We want people to come out and experience the culture firsthand and see the folk dances and the costumes."
Jason Lossa, 33, wanted to come to Asia Fest last year but work got in the way. This year, he showed up early and got himself a prime viewing spot.
"I think I want to stay until the very end," said the Home Depot employee from Tampa. "I'm not sure I'm looking for anything in particular. I just wanted to be here."
To kick off the event, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner and Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez brought greetings and proclamations from local government before heading off to the VIP tent for a sit-down meal of delicacies from several different Asian nations.
"One of the things we have that makes the Tampa Bay area great is a large community with a rich history from the Far East coming here and making us stronger with their diversity," Suarez said.
Of the eight rich histories represented in the Miss Asia Fest 2014 pageant, it was Miss China, Di Li, who took home the crown.
"I moved to Tampa three years ago from Shandong Province," said the 19-year-old University of South Florida industrial engineering major. "It's a coastal city and Tampa's a coastal city, so when I got here it already felt like home."
Li's family came to watch her be crowned Saturday afternoon, a coronation that wasn't a certainty to her until the moment she heard her name.
"All the girls were so good," Li said. "So I didn't put too much pressure on myself today and I think that really helped me."
She said she got involved in Asia Fest and the pageant as an opportunity to improve her presentation skills, be a role model for other girls and learn about the other countries being represented.
"This is great way to empower Asian women," Li said.
Her crowning ended the program portion of the event but the seven restaurants representing different countries were still drawing in customers from the neighboring Dragon Boat festival and people wandering around downtown Tampa.
Some people were still arriving as booths and tents began to fold up their tables to go home.
"The crowd was very strong this year," Springsteen said. "I'm really happy."